Emily Crowe's Reviews > The Lifespan of a Fact

The Lifespan of a Fact by John D'Agata
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Sep 03, 2014

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bookshelves: nonfiction
Read from November 04, 2011 to February 06, 2012

This book is endlessly fascinating! Let me try to explain how and why this book got published. Almost 10 years ago, John D’Agata wrote an essay called “About a Mountain” that was rejected for publication from various periodicals due to factual inaccuracies. Enter Believer magazine, who was willing to run the piece with a certain number of inaccuracies, as long as they knew exactly what they were and wouldn’t be surprised by anything post-publication. Believer puts their staff fact checker named Jim Final on the case, and over the next few years the writer and the fact checker go back & forth, dickering about the nature of truth in an essay and where the line is drawn between journalism and narrative non-fiction. The result is this wonderful little book that prints both the relatively short article as well as much of the fact checking correspondence between John and Jim, which is sometimes aggressive, sometimes funny, and always interesting.

I had no idea until I read this book exactly what happens behind the scenes of any responsibly published nonfiction work. It’s clear to me now, though, that the fact checkers are the unsung heroes o the publishing world, no matter where we draw the line between journalism and creative nonfiction, and after reading this, I’ll never take them for granted again! The book itself is printed in two colors on each page, with black being used for the original article and the verifiable facts, and a deep maroon for all of the parts that the fact checker challenged.

(NB: Not a book to be read straight through, at least speaking for myself.)
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